11 Feb 2024

Queer comedian Jess Karamjeet: Redundant and living with a hidden disability

From Culture 101, 12:42 pm on 11 February 2024


Jess Karamjeet

Jess Karamjeet Photo: Andi Crown Photography

Comedian and writer Jess Karamjeet is hoping her love of Neighbours will be the Trojan horse for her new show Redundant.

Karamjeet grew up watching the Australian soap and after seeing the introduction of an Indian family, it fuelled her dream to be a television screenwriter and specifically for Neighbours. Spoiler alert; her dream came true. But her show is also called Redundant so you can guess what happens next. 

As a queer, South-Asian and British female living with a hidden disability, the comedian wants her intersectionality to be a drawcard. She’s hoping the light-hearted autobiographical show with songs will “bring people into the space who are queer, intersectional and have big dreams but don’t know where to start,” she tells Culture 101’s Perlina Lau. 

Karamjeet was diagnosed with fibromyalgia; a chronic disorder that leads to pain, muscle stiffness and tightness. Trying to manage the condition while working in the comedy industry became challenging with late night sets. 

“The more I tried to keep it a secret, the more I was having chronic pain and unrestful sleep. It was really impacting my ability to be out late.”

After deciding to ‘come out’ with her diagnosis, she’s been able to manage the disability. 

“Bookers and producers will think about those needs. I might go earlier on a line-up. They know the big adrenalin spike of a show until 11pm then has an effect on my health the next few days.” 

Alongside Neighbours, the passing of Karamjeet’s father in 2020 spurred the creation of the show. 

“He played the guitar and I was a jazz singer in another life.”

Coincidentally, on Father’s Day in 2021 Karamjeet bought her first electric acoustic guitar and started writing songs.

“Once I started, it felt completely freeing.”

A former teacher and screenwriter, Karamjeet also founded PACSA - The Pan Asian Comedy School Aotearoa. 

"There just aren’t that many south or east Asian comedians in New Zealand. Put us in a room, there’s 20 of us max.” 

Funded by Foundation North’s Asian Artists Fund, the school teaches the students sentence structure, comedic timing and the fundamentals of performance including microphone techniques. It teaches comedians not to be afraid of an audience. 

A graduation show for recent students was held in December for family, friends and community. 

“It just proved you can have people on a line-up who you may think are similar, but actually all of their perspectives, comedic styles and expressions are really nuanced. 

It felt really great to prove the point that we can have more people within the comedy industry.”

Redundant is on at Q Theatre as part of the Auckland Pride Festival on 16th and 17th February. 

Expressions of interest for PACSA can be registered here.